Traveling Mamas

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  • My family is on their first cruise together on the Carnival Fantasy departing out of Charleston, SC to The Bahamas and it is a totally different cruise experience than my previous romantic getaway. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect on the Carnival Fantasy, but once we were on board the Fun Ship, the excitement hasn’t stopped. Here are some of the top things my kids (ages 12 and 14) loved about our family cruise experience:

    Carnival Fantasy docked in Nassau, Bahamas

    Mini Golf on Carnivla Cruise Lines Fantasy1. Mini Golf – My husband and son had fun bonding on the Sun Deck playing on the mini golf course. They even played in the Mini Golf Tournament and placed 2nd and 3rd. The mini golf shuts down at 8pm, but on the forward part of the Sun Deck, just in front of the mini golf course, there’s a perfect spot for star gazing each evening.

    2. Circle C – My daughter says this is her favorite part of the cruise ship. The 12-14 year olds have their own club with scheduled activities all day, and into the night. She’s made some new friends and has found a little bit of freedom that she’s been looking for. Each night, she outlasts her dad and I with events going on until 1 am. My son opted to visit the arcade off and on in lieu of spending time at Circle C. At 14, he’s not quite old enough for Club O2 (15-17 year olds) and preferred to hang around with me (which as a mom I really loved spending quality one on one time with him).

    Carnival Cruise Lines Water Works waterpark on the Fantasy
    3. Water Works
    – Kids and adults will have fun on the multiple waterslide area located in aft (back) of the Carnival Fantasy. Both of my kids had waterslide races and we even all took a slide down the curvy longer one. I staked out chairs near the slide entrance, which also overlooked the ship’s pool area, giving me a great view of everything, including the ocean. The best part? I was right near where the kids were, yet far enough away to still feel like I was getting some Me Time.

    4. Making New Friends – My daughter has been running around the ship with other girls she met at Circle C. Sometimes they attend the scheduled activities together, but they’ve also been running around getting snacks, playing at Water Works and spending time at the pool. At night, they’ve had so much fun running around to the various photography setups and taking group photos for the fun of it. I think I may secretly purchase one for her so that she has a memory captured as a picture.

    5. The International Crew – Both of the kids have enjoyed chatting with the crew members who all hail from various countries. The kids love all the different accents and asking about where they live when not on the ship. It has been special and even educational for our family.

    6. The Shows – My daughter loves live performances, so it was no surprise that she would check the ship schedule to see what shows are going on in the Universe Theater on the Carnival Fantasy. All the activities and shows are easy to find in the Fun Times, which is the newsletter delivered each evening letting us know about the next day’s schedule. It even comes with a perforated pocket-size schedule to keep things handy and accessible.

    Lobster Dinner on Carnival Fantasy

    7. The Food – This is my third cruise, but the first with Carnival Cruise Lines. I have to admit, the food is much better than I anticipated. Each night we have dinner with MommyMusings and her family and we are treated to some very good meals. One night lobster was on the menu. My son ended up eating three of them! The kids also like that room service is included in the cruise price and that anytime they want they can get burgers, pizza, and ice cream from the buffet at Window on the Sea Restaurant.

    8. The Beds – Our room was an ocean view cabin and I will admit that at first glance it looked small for a family of four. However, after settling in, we realized the room is quite cozy. The kids loved the layout, with a king bed for the parents and an upper and lower bed for the kids. My daughter had packed her own Justin Bieber poster and placed in on the wall next to her upper bunk.

    9. The Towel Animals – Who doesn’t love towel animals in your room after dinner? We played a game trying to guess which animal would be in our room each night. A frog? An elephant? It didn’t matter. Just seeing the cuteness when we walked in was half the fun.

    10. The Onboard Activities – Besides the mini golf matches and Circle C activities, there were activities going on all day long and into the night. There were line dancing lessons, towel animal demonstrations and karaoke. There were shows and a magician who walked around the ship, especially during dinner. My daughter and I even experienced a mother/daughter spa treatment.

    As you can tell, the kids enjoyed their first cruise experience on the Carnival Fantasy. And to think, this was just the ship part of the trip! We’re already planning our next family cruise. Have you been on a family cruise? What were some of your children’s favorite moments on their cruise? Do you have tips for saving money on a cruise? Share them in the comment sectionn below.

    Special thanks to Carnival Cruise Lines who hosted our family cruise experience.

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  • There are some simple ways to save money on your next cruise.

    Flickr photo by jimg944

    There are many deals to be had on cruise vacations, which are often viewed as an economical way to travel. But that great cruise fare you got before you sailed could turn into sticker shock when the fees for spas, shore excursions and even sodas add up during your cruise vacation.

    Here are some of the best ways to save money on a cruise:

    Book your cruise early: “Last-minute” used to be the mantra for bargain cruise shoppers, but these days many of the last-minute fares have sailed away. Your best bet for getting a great deal on a cruise is to book as early as possible. As the bookings rise on a cruise ship, so do the fares. In addition, the lowest-priced cabins often fill up first, which could force you to book a higher-priced category than you were planning.

    Use the right travel agent:
    Just about any travel agent can book your cruise, but many agents specialize in a particular cruise line or a particular cruise route. Find an agent who has sailed with your chosen cruise line and booked many cruises with them. An experienced travel agent with established relationships can often get you upgrades or bigger on-board credits. A good agent will also steer you toward particular sailings that may save you money and monitor your cruise after you have booked, to ask for a reduction in fare if a new discount is offered.

    Consider booking your own airfare: Most cruise lines offer “air and sea” packages that add your air travel to the port in with the price of your cruise. While the bundled approach can save you money in many areas of life, these airfare plus cruise packages usually cost more than if you book your airfare yourself. A few quick Web searches for fares should help you decide whether to go with the cruise line package or buy your own airline tickets.

    Book a smaller or inside cabin: Is a cruise about relaxing in your cabin and gazing out at sea? Or are you going to take advantage of all the amenities your ship and the ports have to offer? If you intend to use your cabin only for sleeping, as many cruisers do, then a smaller, inside room will probably be just fine. You can save hundreds of dollars by opting for a lower-cost category. Also consider the time of year you will be cruising if you plan to book a cabin with a veranda. Your morning coffee or evening glass of wine on your private deck will be a chilly proposition on an April cruise in Norway, so you might want to book an inside cabin and save your money.

    Save on shore excursions:
    Your cruise line will offer a myriad of shore excursion choices for your days in port. But it will be cheaper to book a tour or other excursion independently and not pay the cruise line’s mark-up. To find providers, search the name of your port and “shore excursions.” Be sure to check into the reputation of the company you are booking with. Also consider the number of excursions you are booking. It can be as much or even more fun to explore a port city on your own rather than join an organized tour every day of your trip.

    Bring your own booze: One of the biggest surprises at the end of a cruise could be your bar bill. Alcohol is not included in the price of most cruises, and you should expect to pay about what you would pay at a resort for an alcoholic drink. To save money, check with your cruise line to see if you are allowed to bring alcohol with you on the ship. Many cruise lines allow you to bring a set number of bottles of wine on board and pay a corkage fee of about $15 for each bottle. Often, the price of the wine plus the corkage fee is still less than a bottle of wine costs on the ship.

    Mind your drinks: In addition to charges for alcohol, many cruise lines also charge for soda, bottled water and specialty coffees. These charges can add up over the course of the cruise, so stick to what’s offered for free, like regular coffee and tea. You might also consider the soda card that is offered on many cruise lines. This deal costs $5-$7 per day and allows unlimited soda on board. And desserts also abound on a cruise, so you can skip the ice cream bar on deck that charges extra for sweet stuff.

    Save on surfing and talking: Internet usage is usually charged by either the minute or the kilobyte while you are on a cruise ship. To avoid these charges, seek out an Internet cafe while the ship is in port. These local Internet cafes usually offer high-speed Internet for a much more reasonable price than you will find on board. If you must use your cell phone on your vacation, check with your cell phone provider before you leave and upgrade your plan to include international roaming. The extra charges will still be less than using the expensive phones on the ship.

    Watch your wallet: Cruise ships use a cashless system, where your room is charged for each thing you buy. This is a great modern convenience, but it’s also an easy way to ignore how much you are spending. At the end of every day, do a mental tally of what you have charged, so that you won’t be in for a big surprise at the end of your vacation. Or carry a small notepad to write down the charges during the day to track them exactly.

    Plan ahead: While you are on your cruise, consider booking your next one. If you book while on board, you will be offered some of the best rates available, as well as other incentives such as on-board credits and free shore excursions. Many cruise insiders say these “boomerang” deals are the way to get the most cruise for your money.

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  • I’ve always been reluctant to cruise, but when Princess Cruises invited me to experience a cruise with a guest of my choosing for a Twitter press trip, it turned into the perfect opportunity to enjoy a romantic week with my husband. After all, Princess Cruises IS The Love Boat!

    Princess Cruises Crown Princess

    This was the first cruise for both of us and also our first romantic getaway in years. We were giddy with excitement as we chose our excursions and packed accordingly. We not only had to pack for ourselves, but we had to make sure the kids were prepared for a week with their grandparents. We took off on a flight to Ft. Lauderdale and our escape plan aboard the Crown Princess was implemented.

    Piazza of Crown Princess by Shannon Hurst LaneWe boarded the Crown Princess and were shown directly to our stateroom, a mini-balcony suite. We met our cabin steward, Ed, who promptly delivered a glass of Champagne to each of us. Hubby and I enjoyed the fresh air on our balcony and toasted the start of our romantic getaway and discussed our first impression of stepping aboard the ship.

    Passengers aboard the Crown Princess are welcomed in the Crown Plaza, a spacious Italian piazza style atrium that is the center of onboard activity throughout the cruise. The ship can accommodate over 3,000 passengers with 900 staterooms offering private balconies.

    Mini Balcony Suite on Crown Princess by Shannon Hurst LaneStateroom: We enjoyed a mini balcony suite which included a separate sitting area with sleeper sofa, two televisions, a very comfortable queen-size bed, bathroom with tub/shower and a spacious balcony with seating for four. These mini-suites are approximately 323 square feet (including the balcony) and offer extra amenities such as in-room refridgerator and welcome Champagne. Suite occupants are also allowed exclusive use of Sabatini’s Restaurant for breakfast. A fresh flower arrangement decorated our room as a welcome and each afternoon we were treated to canapes and Twitter-themed treats. Tip: Be sure to take advantage of a romantic evening meal on your balcony ($50 per person).

    Dessert on Crown PrincessDining: There are a variety of dining options, including Traditional dining at Boticelli’s, Anytime dining at Michaelangelo and Da Vinci, Specialty dining (cover charge) at Sabatini’s, Crown Grill (steak and seafood) and balcony dining , as well as casual dining at many of the other places located around the ship. On one evening, we experience dining at the Chef’s Table, which includes a tour of the galley complete with appetizers and Champagne followed by a multi-course outstanding culinary experience ($75 per person). Tip: If you like soft drinks, purchase a soft drink card at the start of the cruise and get unlimited colas for around $4 per day.

    Activities: We explored the ship and hubby was excited to discover a nine-hole putting course and virtual golf simulator. During our time at sea, he entered a golf tournament, ping-pong tournament, and bingo tournament. Each evening at turndown, Ed placed a copy of the Princess Patter which listed the following day’s activities. Tip: Bring a highlighter to mark activities of interest.

    Crown Princess Pool Area

    Entertainment: The Princess Theater offers Las Vegas style performances with lots of music and dancing. There are also many other entertainment venues and bars located throughout the ship. We preferred an evening of Movies Under the Stars (MUTS) where we lounged in poolside chairs snuggled up together under blankets provided by the ship. Movie candy and popcorn is served, along with a variety of movies throughout the cruise. Tip: Smokers can light up in Speakeasy Cigar Bar.

    For the Kids: I did a walkabout of the children’s activity areas just in case I wanted to cruise aboard the Crown Princess at a future date with kids in tow. Activities are age appropriate with three age groups: Princess Pelicans (3-7), Shockwaves (8-12) and Remix (13-17). The youth and teen center has its own game room and movie room along with their own pool. I was more interested in the tween and teen areas which looked like pretty cool hangouts. Tip: Parents can take advantage of kid activity time to catch a spa treatment or other activity.

    Champagne and Chocolate Covered Strawberries

    My Favorite Things: I loved the aspect of visiting different places and still sleeping in the same bed at night. I enjoyed eating at a restaurant and not having to pay a bill or drive home. I LOVED the couple’s massage at the Lotus Spa and laughed with the masseuse girls when my husband started snoring during his treatment. Most of all, I really enjoyed those morning cups of coffee with my husband as we gazed out at the ocean and realized we had escaped completely on our romantic cruise aboard the Crown Princess.

    Coffee for Two

    Our trip was hosted by Princess Cruises and would cost a consumer approximately $3900 in total to experience the same amenities, excursions, and all the extras that we enjoyed on the this trip, including airfare to Ft. Lauderdale. This is equivalent to to a week at a high-end all inclusive resort except you have the added benefit of visiting four destinations instead of one. I would recommend this experience for a honeymoon, milestone anniversary, or any special time for a couple to reconnect. Check out Princess Cruises Department of Romance for more ideas on how to enjoy a romantic escape.

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  • Cruising has been one of the oldest forms of family travel and it only keeps getting better! Nickelodeon and Norwegian Cruise Lines have partnered to offer Nickelodeon at Sea, with family-friendly amenities that will keep everyone entertained. Families can enjoy character meet and greets, interactive games and more on the Norwegian Jewel and Epic. The three-year partnership also includes select specialty Nickelodeon-themed cruises each year, featuring Nickelodeon TV stars, show premieres and continuous themed-entertainment on the ship.

    “Nickelodeon is an incredible family brand that is well-known to kids and parents of all ages,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian’s chief executive officer. “Combining its worldwide appeal with our signature Freestyle Cruising will create the ultimate experience at sea for families. For any family considering a cruise vacation, there is no better value and experience than Nickelodeon at Sea on Norwegian Cruise Line.”

    Nickelodeon at Sea will launch on Norwegian Jewel when the ship begins sailing from New York in late April, and on Norwegian’s latest addition to its fleet Norwegian Epic–when she launches in July. Each cruise will feature live Nickelodeon-themed interactive shows, including: SlimeTime LIVE! with Nick’s signature slime; Nick Live! Poolside entertainment; character breakfasts and meet and greets; Nick-themed dance parties; and more. Nickelodeon-themed elements will also be incorporated into Norwegian’s Kids’ Crew program.

    Can’t get enough of Nickelodeon at Sea? Don’t worry! Special Nickelodeon-themed cruises will be offered annually where families can immerse themselves in everything Nickelodeon all day, every day. These unique cruises will include: special appearances by the Network’s live talent; show premieres; more live game shows; even more opportunities to visit with kids’ favorite Nick characters; and much more. The first of the Nickelodeon-themed specialty cruises is scheduled on Norwegian Jewel later this year.

    The Norwegian fleet is full of Freestyle Family Fun. Just-for-kids splash pools are on Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Jewel, Pride of America, Norwegian Star and Norwegian Spirit. Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Spirit and Norwegian Star also offer water play areas with slides and water squirters. The new Norwegian Epic takes it all up a notch with three multi-story water slides and The Epic Plunge – the only slide of its kind at sea.

    Norwegian Cruise Lines was awarded the best family friendly cruising accommodations in 2009. My family has yet to cruise together, but I have personally experienced NCL’s FreeStyle Cruising on the Norwegian Spirit to check out the staterooms for TravelingMamas.com readers. Norwegian offers interconnecting staterooms, multi-room Suites and Villas, and everything you need for the entire family to be more than comfortable.

    While Freestyle Cruising, I bumped into a group of 13 year old boys and asked them what they loved most about their cruise. One boy answered, “I love how we get to see so many places on one vacation.”

    To book your Nickelodeon or Family Freestyle Cruise with NCL, visit the Norwegian Cruise Line official website or call your favorite travel agent.

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  • princess_logoA few months ago, I received an invitation for Princess Cruises‘ Twitter press trip, which takes place next week. This is not my first press trip by any means, but it is my first cruise and the added option of bringing along my husband, while checking out the ship, has played a big part in the decision to participate. It has been at least four years since we’ve gone on any trip without the kids. It seems fitting that this romantic cruise take place on Princess Cruises, cruise line for The Love Boat!

    Crown PrincessI’ve always been adverse to cruising, as visions of The Titanic and Jaws come to mind, but my coworkers and relatives that have been on cruises always come back raving. I’m curious about the positive and negative affects cruise lines have on the environment and local port economies. I’ll also be keeping track of all of our expenses, icluding the items the cruise line is covering and those they aren’t. I want to be sure that the overall costs associated with this trip are in line with what would be expected by the average consumer. As a family, we’ve priced various cruises, but have yet to take the plunge. We’ve been too busy discovering our own country, the USA.

    Route for Princess Cruises Twitter Press Trip #FollowMeAtSea
    Route for Princess Cruises Twitter Press Trip #FollowMeAtSea

    I’ve had a few questions, as would any traveler embarking on their first cruise. So, I decided to consult some cruise experts (frequent cruise consumers), who were more than willing to help out this cruise virgin and provide some of the best tips for cruise travel.

    “For those who have never really dressed up, this is an opportunity for a special occasion,” said author and speaker Bonnie Coffey. She’s been on more than six cruises, which makes her an expert in my book. Her tips include packing interchangeable dressy black pants, skirts, and tops for those formal dinners onboard. Since airlines now charge a baggage fee, she also commented that it makes sense to rent a tuxedo for the male passengers through a cruise ship rental service, leaving room in the luggage for other needed items. For those searching out this service, CruiseLineFormal.com works with a variety of cruise lines.

    Consultant Derrick Hayes sent along this advice: “Find out if the cruise has a daily theme so you can pack appropriately. In 2008 we went on The Tom Joyner’s Fantastic Voyage and each day required a different themed outfit. The first day was Represent Day where cruisers wore clothing representing their city, or favorite team.”

    Speaking of fashion, Barbara DesChamps wrote the book on packing. She suggests packing a carryon with everything you’ll need for your first day onboard, as it can take hours for your luggage to arrive at your cabin. She advises to skip the jeans for this trip. “This is a cruise, not a camping trip,” mentioned Barbara. She also offered this sage advice, “The average person gains eight pounds on a one-week cruise. Do not bring clothing that you can just barely wear at the beginning.” Now that’s a good tip, especially for someone who enjoys meals like I do. For more lightweight packing tips, you can find her books on packing at Chateau Publishing.

    Allison Jones, a Disney Cruise Specialist, suggests that cruisers should check with their cell phone carriers before departing on their cruise. Most plans do not include international calling, and you wouldn’t want to return to a $900 phone bill!

    Instructor Craig R. Brownell, a frequent cruise passenger, sent along some valuable tips regarding cruise ship charges, “Be EXTREMELY careful with your ‘ship card’. These are not only your room keys, they are credit cards. BLOCK youngsters from charging on their room key unless they are extremely responsible. Some teens think of it as free stuff and you could end up with a huge surprise at the end of your cruise. Establish iron-clad rules and check your account frequently. Some ships have all-you-can-drink soft drink cards for a fixed fee.”

    Craig also touched on the need for communication on the ship and recommended cruisers bring along a two-way radio. This tip was also mentioned by one of my husband’s coworkers and is a fantastic alternative to running up that enormous cell phone bill Allison Jones mentioned.

    These are some great tips chock full of valuable information to assist any first time cruiser. You can rest assured that while Princess Cruises is hosting my stay, I always provide an honest personal opinion when researching travel experiences. My responsibility is to my readers.

    Even though hubby and I will be away, our house will be full of people, thanks to relatives taking care of the kids and our puppy-dog while we’re sailing. We’re both looking forward to our first cruise adventure, learning about the cruise industry and all the ports we’ll discover along the way with Princess. I’ll also ask attendees’ thoughts on the Clean Cruise Ship Act currently in Congress and the effects on both sides of the discussion. Is there something in particular you’d like us to do or see while we’re on this trip? Questions to ask?  Let me know and I’ll do my best to get you an answer.

    Want to see what others are saying about cruising with Princess? They also offer some fantastic travel information. Here are some of the blogs attending:

    Simone di Santi’s A Road Retraveled

    Kim Mance and The Galavanting Gals

    Nancy D. Brown’s What a Trip

    Gary Arndt’s Everything Everywhere

    Expert Cruiser Anita Dunham-Potter

    Cheri Lucas

    Johnny Jet

    Bret Rounsaville AmTrekker

    Cruise Critic

    BrilliantTips from Brilliant Trips

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